170. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East


  • The Secretary of State
  • Mr. Sisco, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Ambassador Keating, Ambassador to Israel
  • Ambassador Eilts, Ambassador to Egypt
  • Ambassador Murphy, Ambassador to Syria
  • Ambassador Pickering, Ambassador to Jordan
  • Mr. Atherton, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Mr. Saunders, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
  • Mr. Oakley, NSC
  • Mr. Bremer, Notetaker

Secretary Kissinger: I thought we’d have a preliminary talk now and then a longer one next week on where we stand. The President means business about reassessing our policy. Do your clients understand that, Ken?

Ambassador Keating: I think so. They are forming the feeling in their minds that we mean business.

Secretary Kissinger: They really ripped it with the President this time.

Ambassador Keating: You mean with their “new ideas”?

Secretary Kissinger: In the sense that he feels that they double-crossed him. You know the President. You (Sisco) saw him. He feels that they are making us pay out of proportion to any issue involved during the negotiations. What’s the difference between the end or the middle of the passes?

Can you give us two minutes on the mood in Israel, both among the officials and the people?

Ambassador Keating: Well, the officials still look to us and want to be close to us as their only friends.

Secretary Kissinger: But what are they willing to do?

[Page 611]

Ambassador Keating: Well, you got my cable.2 And I would like to stress that the people are behind Rabin. He now has about 90% of the people backing his being firm.

Secretary Kissinger: Oh, there’s no question of that. What about Geneva?

Ambassador Keating: Well, they don’t want to go. Though they expect to have to go if you don’t return. I know you’re not planning to. But they expect that something will be worked out. In fact, I have an idea.

Secretary Kissinger: What?

Ambassador Keating: The only part of Allon’s talk which had anything new in it was where do we go from here and the fact that Israel is prepared to go very far, in fact all the way for peace and very far for non-belligerency—way beyond the passes.

Secretary Kissinger: I really don’t understand them. They make fun of the non-use of force on the grounds that you can’t trust the Arabs but if that is true at the passes, then why should you trust the Arabs with non-belligerency 100 kilometers further back?

Ambassador Keating: I don’t see either.

Secretary Kissinger: Can Sadat accept non-belligerency?

Ambassador Eilts: I’m not so sure that it isn’t the way to get the thing started. If faced with having to make a choice he’ll back out of it, but it still cannot be done with non-belligerency without a definition defining the difference between non-belligerency and peace so clear as not to give everything away. The Israelis might have some tendency to look again at the El Arif line with another look at the non-belligerency definition.

Secretary Kissinger: If the Israelis do that, I will really doubt their sanity. If they blew up the talks for 6 kilometers and then go back 80 kilometers for something that’s not quite non-belligerency, they must be nuts.

Ambassador Keating: I think we may really have trouble.

Secretary Kissinger: When will we hear from the Israelis? In three weeks we’ll be too far down the road. Once the Geneva dates are set, it will be very difficult.

Ambassador Keating: Well, am I authorized to discuss this with them?

Secretary Kissinger: No. They have to come to us. The next round is the round when both sides come and ask us. The time when they [Page 612] think I need these negotiations for my domestic position is over. We’re not going to go begging. The Egyptians weren’t bad. At least they gave us what they could.

Ambassador Keating: How do we get started then?

Secretary Kissinger: It’s Israel’s choice. We can try to start the talks again or we can go to Geneva and let nature take its course or we can go to Geneva with an American plan.

Mr. Atherton: Could we get the talks started with an American plan now?

Secretary Kissinger: They’ll kill us. We have to know what we want. Many of the reasons we wanted the talks have now gone. Geneva seems to me as almost inevitable. It will mean spilling much blood and it may not be worth it, especially if we make Israel accept an American plan and then go to Geneva.

If Israel had accepted even after bitter negotiations then we could have gone to Geneva, though there might not even have been a Geneva, since I doubt if Dick’s guys would have come.

Ambassador Murphy: That’s right.

Secretary Kissinger: To go to limited talks now and to impose a settlement in six months, I just don’t know.

Ambassador Keating: Perhaps we should talk now about a complete settlement.

Secretary Kissinger: By that you mean a settlement on all fronts?

Ambassador Keating: Right.

Secretary Kissinger: That we can undertake either in or out of Geneva.

Ambassador Keating: We are talking about a line East of El Arish-El Tor. I think we would have to move on at least two fronts at the same time.

Secretary Kissinger: Let me understand this. I think there are two problems. The Israelis are talking around that they want us back, but they have never stated what they mean by that. (To Ambassador Murphy) Did you see Asad before you left?

Ambassador Murphy: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Was it friendly?

Ambassador Murphy: Yes, very friendly. He very much wants us engaged.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I share your feeling, Ken, in the last paragraph of your cable. I don’t see any new element in the Israeli answer.

There are two possibilities. Either the Israelis tell us that we should complete an interim agreement with a U.S. plan agreed to by the Is[Page 613]raelis ahead, this would involve a line east of the passes with a narrow coastal corridor.

(Secretary leaves room to take a phone call.)

Secretary Kissinger: Here is the basic problem. The Israelis keep asking us to get back in but they have no practical proposal. They are putting it out to the media and everyone imploring us without any constructive ideas.

Mr. Sisco: That is one reason why I don’t think you can be too rigid about who takes the initiative.

Secretary Kissinger: Suppose we come up with an idea. What is needed is a line east of the passes, even one kilometer. Am I not right?

Ambassador Eilts: Right.

Secretary Kissinger: If the line goes down even with the continuous line with some kind of a corridor . . .

Ambassador Eilts: With civilian administration.

Secretary Kissinger: He doesn’t need a wide corridor. You could probably even say that Israeli trucks could use the road, but there is simply no truth to the argument that they need that road as an alternative to the Sharm-el-Sheik road.

Ambassador Eilts: Sadat would probably buy what you’re talking about, but I doubt Sadat will offer more.

Secretary Kissinger: Would he accept all three Israeli formulations?

Ambassador Eilts: I would think he would argue that they are redundant.

Secretary Kissinger: But these people are essentially rug merchants. The question is would he accept all three.

Ambassador Eilts: No, I think he would want to play with the language a little bit to eliminate what he sees as redundancy.

Mr. Sisco: My judgment is, on the other hand, that he would accept. I’ll go further. I think we can play with the first paragraph.

Secretary Kissinger: The more fundamental question is where are we then. Now had we gotten this Egyptian agreement, Asad wouldn’t have gone to Geneva and he would have been willing to have talks with the Israelis. Now he’ll insist on going to Geneva.

Ambassador Murphy: He’s much more reticent now. Everything is being prepared in detail for Geneva.

Secretary Kissinger: Here is my worry. We would pay such a price in Israel for only a limited agreement. And there are only two ways to get a limited agreement. They can come to us or we can ask them are you prepared to accept a U.S. proposal. They may accept such a proposal, but there will be unshirted hell.

[Page 614]

Mr. Sisco: The best would be if the Israelis would come up with something. I feel that we could say procedurally they have already come back to us with something. Our ideas can then be put in diplomatic channels to the Israelis as a discussion without any formal proposal until we get their reactions.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, but is it worth it?

Mr. Sisco: I assume in Geneva we can do no more than posture and take a public position of dissociation with Israel. I just don’t think that between now and 1976 we can get an overall agreement. I think the price of starting up again now is less than the price we would pay if we lost the American role entirely.

Secretary Kissinger: What about Syria?

Mr. Sisco: There are two choices. Either the beginning of a process along the lines which you discussed with Asad or to try to start it up in Geneva.

We need to try to resurrect the negotiations.

Secretary Kissinger: I disagree. Is this coming from Goldberg3 in any way?

Mr. Sisco: No, it has nothing to do with Goldberg. That’s not fair.

Ambassador Keating: We can keep Geneva in the distance.

Secretary Kissinger: There’s no way to do that. It will now meet.

Ambassador Keating: That’s unfortunate.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, who lectured them on this? Who was giving insolent speeches to us about how eager they were to get there.

Ambassador Eilts: I would like to see the talks resurrected. In the end we may have to go to Geneva, but this would happen in different circumstances if the talks were resurrected. There is certainly some advantage to trying. We can ask a higher price for non-belligerency.

Secretary Kissinger: That is a totally new negotiation. If there is a massive Israeli withdrawal, it must go to El Arish-El Tor. In that case then there must be something for Syria. I doubt Asad could survive a massive move there without something for him.

Ambassador Eilts: I think it will be too much for the Israelis. Then they will fall back to getting both sides out of the passes.

Secretary Kissinger: We should separate the problems. I see no domestic basis for Rabin to make a move. I can see a line that might parallel the passes one kilometer back and then swings maybe out to two kilometers from the coast. I think the Egyptians would accept it.

Ambassador Eilts: For the non-use of force.

[Page 615]

Secretary Kissinger: That’s what they told the congressional delegation.

That’s one negotiation. On the tactics, I think we must let the Israelis stew for another week and let the Jewish community here get a little more frantic.

Mr. Sisco: I didn’t like what you said a while ago about Goldberg, Henry.

Secretary Kissinger: I didn’t even know you had met with Goldberg. I thought you would call him. I had a meeting myself with a west coast Jewish group, including Ziffren and Taft Schreiber at breakfast. There is an important difference. They are scared to death of a fight. They can yell and scream, but they are not ready for a fight, because they don’t know where a fight will take them.

Almost every Jew I’ve talked to has wound up saying he’ll talk to the Israelis. I think eventually that will seep through. Therefore, our official position is that we don’t give a damn.

Dayan, who is always contrary, says we should start with the Syrians. He says until the Israelis bite the bullet on Syria we are wasting our time. He says the Syrians will start a war so it doesn’t really matter what the Israelis do with Egypt. And we should not be so eager for step-by-step progress. He doesn’t care where the Sinai line is. He said you know, Simcha is explaining on television things Americans simply don’t understand. The only question is Syria, and since Syria won’t make peace without the Palestinians, you have to make an interim settlement with Syria. I tell you, while he was telling me all this Simcha was dying. I told Simcha that I wanted the record to show that I wasn’t asking anything and if you have an idea ok; if not, we go to Geneva.

Let them cook another week.

Mr. Sisco: You may be right about the importance of that last talk in Damascus.4

Secretary Kissinger: Here is my concern. If the President wrote Rabin and said for the sake of Israeli-U.S. relations, you must get out of the passes. It just might give us a chance. There’s a better than even chance that this might get them out. But where are we then. We have a massive problem with Syria in three months. Therefore, I’m reluctant to put forth a U.S. proposal which would make it look like the Egyptian one is the only important settlement. I think having driven us to this point and having gotten the Jewish community so upset, we should get more for it.

Mr. Sisco: I don’t think you can.

[Page 616]

Secretary Kissinger: What is Goldberg’s view?

Mr. Sisco: He thinks we should pick up the talks again.

Secretary Kissinger: And go where with them?

Mr. Sisco: Well, he has no clear views.

Secretary Kissinger: How does he feel about the ’67 borders?

Mr. Sisco: He called Dinitz last night and told them they should get peace for the ’67 borders.

Secretary Kissinger: Think of our position in the Arab world. If we can get into a position of peace for the ’67 borders while the Jewish community supports us . . . I’m not sure we should be so hot for a limited agreement.

Mr. Sisco: But I think we can do that even if we fail in the next try.

Secretary Kissinger: If we fail, it’s easy to go to the ’67 borders. What I worry about is if we succeeded the next time, we would have our problems. You know my view. I didn’t want to reach that point for several years. We could go for this agreement now; it is attainable. And selfishly it would be a great accomplishment, but where are we afterwards? We are in a good psychological position now. The Jews are very nervous, they will go after me, and they’ll try to destroy me. But the President is ready, the Leadership is ready, and I just don’t think we should give that away for six kilometers in the passes. I have always thought the confrontation was inevitable, but I thought it would happen over Syria. I am deeply worried that in six months we will be much worse off. Now everybody is pleading, but we are under no great pressure yet. When we try to pressure the Israelis, Jackson, et al., that’s when it will get rough.

My previous strategy was to do Egypt and then close down the whole thing until after our elections. I was not, quite frankly, going to spill very much blood for Syria. Get it started maybe and then let it drag into 1976. I think Sadat was willing to do that.

Mr. Sisco: In the Syrian discussions, we’re not talking about 2 or 3 kilometers—we will need to put forth a peace settlement.

Secretary Kissinger: If you look at all this Jewish community turmoil, it may be that they start saying, talk peace, we will get an interim settlement, and perhaps even more. If we settle too quickly for an interim settlement, we’ll pay lots in arms, memoranda of understanding, etc.

Goldberg was close to hysteria. There are no pro-Israeli editorials in all of these weeks in the papers. Did you see the Baltimore Sun editorial today?

Mr. Sisco: I think we’re all agreed that we’re in no hurry.

Secretary Kissinger: There is no gain in pushing them to the edge of the passes. I think Sadat will let go the whole thing until 1977.

[Page 617]

Ambassador Eilts: Definitely.

Secretary Kissinger: What about Asad?

Ambassador Murphy: He’ll try to wreck it, linking himself more and more to Algeria, the PLO, etc.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t want it said that the U.S. is splitting up the Arabs.

Mr. Sisco: We must remember there is also a difference between Sadat and Fahmy. Sadat is facing the reality that the interim agreement is behind us though Fahmy I think is hopeful.

Secretary Kissinger: There are a number of things we must understand. Suppose I revived the negotiations. I see no possibility that Sadat will put up with another three-week nightmare. He simply can’t risk it. He can only risk the talks with a practical assurance that it will work before we start and we’ll have to start, therefore, with an agreed line.

Mr. Sisco: You’d have to be very far along before you go out.

Secretary Kissinger: In terms of the U.S. dignity, we will never put up with what we did on this last trip. We might do a one-week trip. Can they focus on that?

Ambassador Keating: Not to that extent—not in a week. I don’t think they can do it.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, it must be done in a week. That is just the point. Next time we do it in one week.

Mr. Sisco: Even less.

Ambassador Keating: Are we talking about a big settlement here in a week?

Secretary Kissinger: No, but the minute they talk about the big settlement, they must offer a big settlement to Syria too. Sadat simply can’t accept a big one without Syria as well.

Ambassador Eilts: That’s right, he cannot. He’s safe as long as it’s a military agreement only.

Secretary Kissinger: But if you have a big one, he must have some kind of an offer to Syria too.

Ambassador Eilts: He needs the linkage.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t insist that it be a final peace. The Israelis, however, would have to make a big move everywhere. I had a strategy that would have worked. We’d have done what was possible for Syria. And what we failed to achieve we would have taken to Geneva. It would have been stalled until 1977.

This hasn’t happened. Our profound disappointment may turn out to be a blessing. It has shaken the Jewish community from their complacency and there must now be forces in Israel to face the nature of peace. It is a U.S. opportunity to really stand for something. Geneva [Page 618] is a matter of stage managing. No one expects anything to happen there. But if it doesn’t happen with nothing else going on, we may have a war.

Mr. Sisco: I feel if we go to Geneva without an interim agreement, it won’t get off the ground—it will be an impasse, and it is more likely that we will have a war within a year. That is another reason why whatever price we have to pay, we need to get this thing in hand. Asad will be reluctant to start a one-front war against the Israelis and therefore an interim agreement is a deterrent.

Secretary Kissinger: It depends on what we pay for it.

Ambassador Eilts: I’m inclined to share Joe’s view. The interim agreement would be a deterrent.

Secretary Kissinger: Ken, what do you make of Rabin’s statement about not giving one whit.

Ambassador Keating: Oh, I think that’s for public consumption; he’s riding very high.

Secretary Kissinger: But how does he get the Egyptians to the end of the passes then?

Ambassador Keating: He’s naive. He can talk about a peace settlement more easily than anyone.

Secretary Kissinger: Then we’re not talking about an interim agreement. We’re talking about a big agreement.

Ambassador Keating: I agree. It is easier for Rabin, now that he didn’t give up the passes, to go all the way for a peace settlement.

Secretary Kissinger: Is there a step in between? If one can find a difference between peace and non-belligerency, maybe it will be easier for all of the Arabs.

Ambassador Pickering: We have to keep in mind the Palestinian and West Bank problems. Sadat and Asad will be plunged right into that.

Mr. Oakley: I’m not sure—I think they might wait.

Ambassador Eilts: If you can move fast enough for the Syrians, the Palestinians will wait.

Secretary Kissinger: Suppose the Israelis accepted the ’67 frontier in principle. Would the Syrians leave the Israelis on the Golan for ten years?

Ambassador Murphy: No.

Secretary Kissinger: Would they be willing to see a UN force there for 15 years?

Ambassador Murphy: I think so.

Ambassador Keating: May I just say that the UN in Israel is a really bad word. If you can say a force of a specific people, that would be much better.

[Page 619]

Secretary Kissinger: What if we said a non-Syrian force?

Ambassador Keating: That’s better.

Ambassador Pickering: If you move quickly with Syria, there are Arabs who will say that Asad has moved and forgotten about the Palestinians.

Ambassador Eilts: I have one problem with this strategy. I admit I do not have the sense or feel that you have for the local Jewish community. But if it is so disturbed, and if their reaction is to destroy you, then this effort is gone and we take that very serious risk.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, as DeGaulle said, the graveyards are full of the tombs of the indispensable people. When sanity returns to the Jews here, we will find their options are not that great. It’s going to be pretty hard to accuse a Jewish Secretary of State of anti-Semitism, though they will harass me. I am already spending three-quarters of my time with Jews. It’s just the price we pay.

I found it damn humiliating on the last trip that they all thought that I needed and that the President needed this agreement for ourselves. And the U.S. desperately needed a success. We are suffering a national disgrace in Vietnam. Having suffered it, we will have to act twice as strong. It is the only way to come out with our self-respect. We’ll do what’s right now.

I take your concerns seriously, Joe, but we may be in a new period now.

What are our options? A little agreement, a peace settlement, or a semi-permanent interim agreement.

A peace agreement I don’t think can be faced. The semi-permanent interim agreement, say of ten years with Syria, I don’t exclude. Perhaps along the lines of an El Arif-El Tor line and something between non-belligerency and non-use of force.

The Syrians being in a way more legitimate can make more concessions than the Egyptians. This is the interesting thing. And Asad is a bargainer. He’s really my favorite Arab. In a funny way, he’s an honorable man, though Sadat is the greater statesman.

Now that we’re in a brawl, I think maybe we should go for the bigger interim agreement. Simcha has said Israel is thinking of a big step towards non-belligerency. Let them. Why should we now go only for the passes?

Rather than give up non-belligerency, they might move the line to El-Arish El-Tor. They will of course chisel, but at that point, we should say we cannot do this without the Syrians. Then you have something. If we could do all this this year, then in Geneva we can talk about Jerusalem, Palestine, etc.

[Page 620]

If we make an American proposal, we draw a line to the edge of the passes. We won’t get much more from the Egyptians and as for the eight elements, there’s nothing in there.

Mr. Saunders: There might be for a broader line.

Mr. Atherton: I think the Israelis will want literal non-belligerency.

Secretary Kissinger: There is another thing. Are these guys serious or are they trying to get into another position? Suppose our instinct is right and they have decided not to agree.

Ambassador Keating: I know Sadat may not be able to accept it.

Secretary Kissinger: Non-belligerency without withdrawal, you mean?

Ambassador Eilts: When confronted with it, he might have a lot of trouble.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, let’s do the following. Let us plan to meet next Tuesday5 morning for an hour and a half. I would like to see at that time a plan for a full peace, a plan for an interim agreement of substantial size and a little plan.

Let’s discuss it from the point of view of what is right and not what is at this point politically feasible in this country.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, CL 346, State Department Memorandum of Conversations, Internal, April–May 1975. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Bremer. The meeting was held at the Department of State.
  2. Probably a reference to telegram 1834 from Tel Aviv, March 30, which reported on Keating’s conversation with Allon. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P850014–1515)
  3. Arthur J. Goldberg, a former Supreme Court Justice, Ambassador to the United Nations, and President of the American Jewish Committee.
  4. See Document 147.
  5. April 8. See Document 171.